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The travels of narrow boat Racundra

Trent & Mersey Part 3

Friday 17th October
(4L 1587.93M)
Shugborough Hall

Autumn gloryFradley Junction looking northeastMore sun and the temperature’s rising. Beautiful scenes of autumnal glory. We reached Fradley Junction mid-morning and returned to a canal that we last travelled on back in April.

So Trent & Mersey Part 3 and a poignant reminder that time is running out and we are nearing our journey’s end. From Fradley Junction to its end at Preston Brook is 67 miles and milestones will steadily countdown our progress. We won’t have travelled the full length as turning right at the junction leads to Shardlow 25 miles away and hence to Trent Lock where we were with Maureen at the end of July.

Entering Lock 18

Having turned left we found ourselves in the middle of a flight of 6 ascending locks. It is always appropriate to take care when filling locks with a boat in. Recently we have enjoyed some very well behaved ones but not today. These first narrow locks on the T&M were quite vicious and it is necessary to fill them slowly until the boat can be allowed to rest on the top gate – otherwise the boat gets pulled forward, colliding with the gate and emptying the shelves! As compensation the lock settings with their brick winding bridges are very picturesque and traditional.

Traditional Lock Bridge

At Armitage the canal run tight along the eponymous factory, well known for its water closets. We are of course entering the Potteries.

Big bridge

Glyn is trying to walk each day and has been having some success. This bridge caught my eye as it seemed to dwarf the little darlin’. (Click on the picture to view full size.)

After Rugeley a sharp right turn takes the canal onto a James Brindley aqueduct and across an old friend – the River Trent. I find it a bit difficult to believe that this is the same river that disgorges into the sea at Hull, but a fisherman assured me that indeed that is the case. The Trent is the second longest river entirely within England and at 185 miles is 30 miles shorter than the Thames. It is unusual in that it flows north for the second half of its length.

Cannock Chase now appears on our left as the river and canal run closely together. Cannock Chase is an area of “Outstanding Natural Beauty” and is what remains of a Norman hunting ground known as “The King’s Forest of Cannock”. From our perspective it appears as a ridge whose lower slopes are clad in beautiful mixed broadleaf woodland, surmounted by rather more prosaic Forestry Commission softwood plantations.

Cannock Chase

Eggs for saleAt Taft Bridge we passed a farm with a narrow working boat tied up alongside. The boat was advertising fuel at 79p / litre (cash only) and BSS examinations at £100. What a shame we are already fueled and tested! Never mind, at the bridge was a box selling free range eggs at £1 / half dozen – we took a dozen, paying in the honesty box.

We passed through another lock at Colwich and then moored on the long curve leading to Great Haywood. There is about a mile of piled banking here – perfect for mooring with good views to the Chase. We are planning to visit Shugborough Hall which is located at the end. More tomorrow.

Saturday 18th October
Shugborough Hall

We decided to stop for the day and visit Shugborough Hall. This is a National Trust property but they have leased it to Staffordshire County Council so we have to pay half price for entry. The Hall is just a short walk from where we are moored and on the other side of the canal is Great Haywood where first off Glyn went to pick up our Saturday paper and to get some milk.

Packhorse bridge

Where we are moored we are at a bit of a watery nexus. From the canal a gorgeous pack horse bridge leads across the River Trent to the back entrance to the hall. Just upstream from the bridge the Trent is joined by the River Sow. It makes it a good site for a fortification and Shugborough was originally a moated manor house.

The Hall doesn’t open until 11am and after some “discussion” we decided to go before lunch. We went straight to the house and had a private tour of the private apartments at 11.15am and immediately afterwards a second tour of the ground floor apartments and an introduction to the history of the property. The hall itself has been the property of the Anson family since the 17th century, who became in 1831 the Earls of Lichfield. Probably best known today was the 5th Earl – Patrick Lichfield, the photographer. When the property was gifted to the National Trust in lieu of death duties, Patrick continued to use a suite of apartments on the first floor and it was from here that he entertained various members of the fast set, including Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, Britt Eckland, Mick Jagger, and Olivia Newton John. Although he died in 2005, we were struck by how the apartments seemed to be frozen in time around the 1960’s – reminding us significantly of our own homes from that time.

Our second tour introduced us to George and Thomas Anson who built the estate up to its peak. George Anson, the younger brother born in 1697 chose to pursue a career in the Royal Navy. He rapidly assumed command of his own ship and received a charter to harass Spanish shipping – legalised piracy. He was fortunate enough to capture a Spanish treasure ship. His share of the bounty amounted to many millions at today’s values and his brother Thomas put the money to good use in developing the estate. The rooms were certainly very impressive although doubtless a mere shadow of their original glory.

After these formal tours we trotted back to the boat for lunch and a chance to rest before returning for the afternoon.

The Chinese House The Ruin Shugborough Hall

The grounds are quite extensive and we walked past the Chinese house, the Ruin, and the formal gardens on the way back to the house. We then took a “Noddy” train to the walled garden. Not the best time to visit but a respectable example of its kind. We then returned to tour the servants’ quarters. This starts with a collection of carriages, followed by visits to the “privvies”, the kitchen, and the servants’ dining room and quarters. We then entered a series of museum displays illustrating Staffordshire country life. These were extensive and by the time we reached the end we were looking for the emergency exit! Enough already.

A good day and a rare break from our “continuous cruising”.

Sunday 19th October
(9L 1598.63M 1793.6H)
Stone

Busy canal

Back in harness to continue our journey north westwards. Yesterday we were amazed by the number of boats passing. During the previous days you could have counted the number of boats we saw on the move on the toes of one foot, but they seemed continuous yesterday and today started the same. We couldn’t imagine what was going on, but on reflection it must have been boats heading back to harbour in time to return to normal life on Monday.

Great Haywood Junction Unusual BridgeTrent & MerseyApart from the sun being out again and the scenery being exceptional with all its autumnal colours, there is not a lot to report today. Early on we passed the junction with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Then we passed the midpoint of the Trent & Mersey at Aston Lock – 46 miles in either direction. Finally we arrived at Stone – the ancestral home of our friends Pat and Stewart, who right now are on the Lancaster Canal headed for Tewitfield where they keep their boat! It was sunny in the morning, light rain at 2pm, heavy shower at 3pm and sunny again afterwards. We shopped at Stone at a convenient Morrisons and climbed the first flight of four locks. When the rain began again we decided to stop rather than carry on with the second flight.

KingfisherAlong the way I attempted to creep up on a perched kingfisher (with a 16 ton narrow boat) and managed to get a half decent photograph.

Shepherd’s Pie for dinner.

Actually there was one other exciting event. Briefly my engine hour display came to life and I managed to get a fix which corresponded very closely with my dead reckoning. I wonder if that last statement makes any sense to anyone other than me! Anyway, it has stopped working again already – doh.

3 Comments

  1. ……..Hi
    Just seen you pass my house on the Caldon canal (11:15 am), first house past the fields a mock Tudor style, had my laptop on and typed in the boat name and bingo! ……..hoping to get moorings here and get a narrow boat ourselves before too much longer……happy boating!

    • Nice to hear from you – did I take a picture of your house? We are on our way back to Etruria now after a very quick visit to Leek – we moored by the last winding hole. We keep wondering if we should have a house on the canal where we could keep a boat. Anyway, go for it, we have had an excellent summer travelling around the canals.

      • Hi Pete…..you may well have taken a photo, I only saw your passage past the lounge window but since moving here 20 months ago we have noticed boaters and toe path walkers alike take photos of the house…..take care

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